Craig This may have one of the most interesting offices in University Hall. Among the binders, reports and family photos are a Wright State baseball poster, Superman and Mr. Incredible action figures, a Read a Graphic Novel flyer, and lots of books, from The Fault in Our Stars to Zombies in the Academy to The Ages of Wonder Woman.
As a data analyst in Wright State’s Office of Institutional Research, This analyzes survey results and provides data for the Lake Campus, Veteran and Military Center and Learning Communities.
But This’ involvement at Wright State extends beyond his day job. He also teaches a course on comic books and as a member of the Unclassified Staff Advisory Council has helped create several successful community service initiatives, including Raidersgiving.
He likes to cite a 2011 TED Talk by writer and comic book author Brad Meltzer in which he says we are all Clark Kent, an ordinary person who can do something incredible.
“We need that person who’s going to step up and do the Paws for Ability, do the blood drive,” This said. “Those are the superheroes you need.”
This teaches a course on comic books in American culture for first-year students in the Learning Communities. He started teaching the class at Sinclair Community College and offered to teach it at Wright State when he arrived at the university in 2007.
The course uses comic books as a way to examine larger themes like sexism, censorship and civil liberties. The key is connecting a story to students’ lives to get them interested.
“The comic books are basically a backdoor to get them to talk about big social issues,” This said. “You are exposing them to this type of rigorous thinking, this walking through your thought process that’s going to be needed on a college campus. You get into problem solving and looking at alternatives.”
For instance, comic books provide an interesting way to discuss civil liberties and immigration. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Marvel comics published a story on a civil war between superheroes. After a group of superheroes detonated a bomb, in an unsuccessful attempt to save some children, debate arose between Iron Man and Captain America about registering superheroes.
When his students discuss the story and how it parallels debates taking place in real life, This asks them: “Would you rather be safe or would you rather be free?”
“They find out there’s no easy answer, and yet it’s brought on by Captain America and Iron Man having this argument about registering superheroes, which are completely fictitious,” he said.
This has always read comic books. He was dyslexic as a child, and his father, who was a public school teacher, encouraged his son to read everything he could. Comic books became a way to get interested in, and better at, reading. “It’s just a good read,” This said. “It’s just escapist fiction.”
In the last 10 years, This has taken an academic interest in comic books. He has written about a wide array of topics, including Captain America and the post-9/11 superhero and Iron Man as a disabled person. His latest essay, examining censorship fights about Wonder Woman in 1940s and ’50s, appears in The Ages of Wonder Woman: Essays on the Amazon Princess in Changing Times. In July, he will present “Borrowing Evil: Marvel Comics’ Adaptation of Canada’s Wendigo” at the Evil Incarnate conference at Case Western Reserve University.
For the last three years, This also served on the Unclassified Staff Advisory Council (USAC), including as chair in 2012–13. During his tenure as chair, he sought to make USAC more involved and visible on campus.
USAC partnered with the Classified Staff Advisory Council, Food Pantry and We Serve U to create Rowdy 500, which collected 500 food items during Homecoming week. USAC also organized Raidersgiving, providing a great meal for students staying on campus over Thanksgiving. Both were extremely successful efforts, and Raidersgiving won the President’s Spirit of Innovation award last year.
This is also one of only a handful of staff and faculty who have received a Tip of the Hat pin from Wright State President David R. Hopkins. The pin honors those who do something special or go the extra mile to make a difference.
The efforts to increase USAC’s visibility have worked, This says. “There are a lot of people, at least from the unclassified staff, who really want to participate in the university life of the students, they’re just not sure how to get there,” he said. “Well, we create those avenues now.”
This credits the Wright State community for encouraging staff and faculty to get involved and give back to the university.
“I think the employees—staff, faculty—are empowered to try things,” he said. “If it works, great. If it doesn’t, try something else.”